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Skype for Business Online Adds Cloud PBX Features

The Skype for Business service is getting a few new feature additions, Microsoft announced this week.

Two of the features, "Auto Attendant" and "Call Queues," are currently available to some Office 365 subscribers, according to Microsoft's announcement. Microsoft describes them as "advanced calling features in Skype for Business Cloud PBX." Cloud PBX is a Microsoft service sold under Office 365 E5 plans or as a "standalone" offering that lets IT pros set up phone numbers for end users in an organization.

The new Auto Attendant feature permits the routing or answering inbound calls using "dial pad inputs and speech," Microsoft's announcement explained. The new Call Queues feature can be used to automatically route incoming calls, either to the next available line or to a wait list.

The availability of the Auto Attendant and Call Queues features likely will depend on when Microsoft executes its Office 365 service rollouts.

IT Perks
There's also a preview of a new dashboard for IT pros called "Call Analytics." The Call Analytics preview, which shows up in the Office 365 Admin Console, notably promises "greater visibility" for IT pros on issues that might affect Skype for Business calls. For instance, it can show "network issues or headset problems" along with other "real-time" information, according to Microsoft's announcement.

IT pros also recently got access to PowerShell "commandlets" (cmdlets) to set "custom policies" for the Skype for Business service. They include cmdlets to set how mobile devices connect with the service, such as favoring a work phone number over the device's mobile phone number. Also, there are policy controls over online conferences, including the ability to deter anonymous participants. Microsoft also added some client control policies, such as the ability to disable presence notifications or enable hyperlinks in instant messages.

These custom policies apparently were enabled last month, according to a Microsoft Tech Community post. Microsoft's announcement also indicated that Skype for Business Online has new security additions, namely "multifactor authentication for PowerShell" and "certificate-based authentication" support.

The Microsoft Tech Community post also offered some details about Skype for Meeting Broadcast, as described in a March Microsoft video (to view it, skip to 2:00 in the video). Skype for Meeting Broadcast is a service that Microsoft rolled out in late 2015 for some Office 365 plans that will scale meetings beyond Skype for Business' limitation of 250 users. Microsoft is planning to add a future "desktop sharing" capability to Skype for Meeting Broadcast, but it'll just be for video, not audio. Also, a coming "auditorium" feature will let users include or exclude ambient noise in Skype for Meeting Broadcast sessions.

Microsoft is also planning to release a preview of a future automatic translation and transcription service for Skype for Business Online, but it'll be an Office 365 E5 plan feature when it goes live, according to the video. The video also noted that Microsoft is planning to shut down its deprecated Live Meeting 2007 conferencing service on Dec. 31, 2017.

Partner Progress
The Microsoft partner community centered on Skype for Business has been active. A few developments were described in Microsoft's announcement.

Polycom, which was bought by Siris Capital Group in September, has announced a service called "RealConnect for Office 365" that will be available in the North American market next month, according to Microsoft's announcement. The cloud-based RealConnect service lets organizations connect their existing videoconferencing equipment to Microsoft's Skype for Business Online service. It's possible to connect different products using the service, "such as Polycom and Cisco video endpoints," according to Polycom's description.

Crestron plans to introduce its "SR for Skype Rooms Systems" product this week. The product, which integrates with Microsoft Surface Pro 4 devices, will ship next month, according to Crestron's description. A Skype Room System is a brand name for partner-built videoconferencing appliances that connect with Microsoft's Skype for Business service, featuring video, audio and white-boarding capabilities on a big screen. These devices used to be called "Lync Room Systems," but Microsoft changed the branding.

More To Come
Microsoft's announcement also noted it has made progress in the last six months in expanding its PSTN Conferencing service. PSTN Conferencing enables organizations to assign phone numbers that will work across various device types, while also enabling phone features such as holds, call forwarding and transfers. The service works across PCs, mobile devices and VoIP phones. Currently, PSTN Conferencing is available for more than 90 countries, permitting "dial-out to 180 countries." Microsoft has recently extended it to "France, Spain and the UK," and a preview is "currently available" in the Netherlands.

Microsoft will have more to say about Skype for Business tomorrow. There will be a live-streamed talk (connect via Skype here) from the Enterprise Connect event. The talk will stream at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (7:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time) on March 29. Ron Markezich, corporate vice president for Office 365 Marketing, will be featured.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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